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5 Gillette Residents Arrested In Felony Aggravated Assault, Kidnapping Conspiracy

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Four Gillette men and one Gillette woman have been arrested in connection to a conspiracy that resulted in a man being severely beaten outside his girlfriend’s residence last month, according to multiple affidavits of probable cause.

Prosecutors have charged James Whitten, Aaron Morris, Felicia Hess, Christopher Melofsky, and Shandon Hildreth with felonies for allegedly planning and executing an assault where a man was forced out of his girlfriend’s apartment and beaten with a baseball bat in the early morning hours of April 19, court records state.

Investigators believe the plan was ironed out around 3:15 a.m., after Whitten contacted Morris and Hess to inform them that several attempts to contact the female that morning to check on her were not successful, according to the affidavits.

Court documents further state that Whitten and Hess believed the man was being physically abusive to the female and grew concerned that they could not reach her, at which point Morris offered to contact two other individuals, Melofsky and Hildreth, both of whom “wanted to get a hold of (the male)” for an unrelated matter.

The five of them traveled to the female’s house in a black 1997 Ford F-350, ultimately making the decision to assault the man with a metal baseball bat acquired from another vehicle before they left, per the affidavit.

On the way, Melofsky reportedly made several statements regarding the plan and how he wasn’t afraid of going back to prison, court documents state.

Suspect statements obtained by police reveal that Whitten, who possessed a key, and Hess entered the apartment to find the man and female sleeping in the bedroom. The pair were awoken, and the female was escorted out while Whitten screamed at the male to get out, according to the affidavits.

The male reported to police that he gathered his belongings, left the apartment, and was followed down the stairs by Whitten. Melofsky and Hildreth were allegedly waiting at the bottom of the stairs and the victim, fearing he may be assaulted, attempted to run but slipped on ice and fell, court documents state.

When he fell, the male reported that the two individuals at the bottom of the stairs rushed at him and began striking him with a baseball bat until he started screaming, per the affidavits, which further state the five suspects fled with the female in the pickup driven by Morris.

The metal baseball bat was allegedly flattened during the assault, according to the affidavits, which add that the male sustained a large “goose egg” on the back of his head and had severe swelling on his hands that were consistent with defensive wounds from trying to protect himself.

Police were notified of the incident around 3:45 a.m. that morning by a witness who had been approached by the male, bloody and beaten, who asked him to get the license plate off a fleeing Ford whose occupants had just assaulted him.

Court documents state that the five suspects noticed the vehicle following them and discussed how they could get away from it while Melofsky reportedly bragged about how hard he hit the man on the head with the bat, which was tossed out of the window by Hildreth.

As they drove, the suspects reportedly turned on a police scanner to see if law enforcement had been able to identify them, according to the affidavits.

Hess allegedly admitted to investigators that the five of them returned to her house, at which point the female was taken to Whitten’s house and the truck was hidden in Morris’ garage, the affidavits state.

Testimony from a third-party witness who knew details regarding the case alleges that Whitten had not been concerned with the female’s safety, but was upset that she had invited the male to her son’s birthday party, according to court documents.

The witness stated that during a recent phone conversation with Whitten, the suspect allegedly admitted that he and several others had beaten the male victim with a bat after hearing the female crying in the dark when they entered the apartment.

Gillette Police Detective Julianne Witham, who investigated the case, wrote in the affidavits that the evidence made it abundantly clear that all of the suspects planned and executed an assault with the intent to inflict serious bodily injury to the victim.

Witham adds that despite finding the victim asleep in the apartment, the suspects forced him to leave the apartment and go outside, where he was badly beaten.

Morris, Whitten, Hess, and Hildreth were all arrested between May 6 and May 10 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping and felony conspiracy to commit an aggravated assault.

Melofsky was arrested on May 9 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping, felony aggravated assault, and felony aggravated robbery, according to court records.

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Cody Couple Pleads Not Guilty To Murder Charges Of Two-Year-Old

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

At a court appearance last week, a Cody man and woman formally denied allegations that they fatally abused a 2-year-old child.

Moshe Williams, 30, and Carolyn Aune, 28, each pleaded not guilty to a count of first-degree murder. The couple is charged in connection with the April 4 death of Williams’ daughter, Paisleigh Williams.

Authorities say Paisleigh appeared to have been dealt a forceful “gut punch” sometime between the night of March 25 and the afternoon of March 27, when Williams took her to the hospital. The blow was severe enough to separate her intestines and eventually caused her death, police say in charging documents; medical professionals also reportedly found evidence that the girl suffered broken bones and other injuries in the weeks and months before her death.

Charging documents quote Williams and Aune as both telling police that they did not abuse the child. Aune and Williams reportedly offered various theories as to how Paisleigh might have been injured — while also casting suspicion on one another.

The murder charges allege that both Aune and Williams intentionally or recklessly inflicted physical injuries and killed Paisleigh. However, police have not yet been able to determine how the child was injured or who was responsible. At preliminary hearings for the two defendants, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters noted the ambiguity around the child’s death. The Cody Enterprise quoted Waters as saying there are some “issues” with the case brought by the Park County Attorney’s Office.

Ultimately, the judge found there was enough evidence to demonstrate “probable cause,” and he allowed the case to advance toward a trial in district court. However, for Williams and Aune to be convicted, Park County prosecutors will face a much higher bar — needing to convince 12 jurors of the couple’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Aune and Williams are presumed to be innocent.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” District Court Judge Bill Simpson reminded the couple during Wednesday’s arraignment, as he went over their constitutional rights. “The burden is on the state.”

Simpson will not be presiding over the case, explaining that he handled a previous, unrelated court case involving Williams. The case will instead be assigned to fellow Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield of Thermopolis. However, in order to speed the case along, Simpson handled last week’s arraignment.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield offered that “if arraignment is a critical stage, and if the court [Simpson] believes it has a conflict, it would make more sense to have Judge Overfield do it.”

“But the state definitely understands and thinks it’s appropriate to start the speedy trial clock,” Hatfield added. “We don’t want to prejudice the defendants in any way”

“So do you have an objection on behalf of the state?” Simpson asked.

“No objection, your honor,” Hatfield said.

Now that Williams and Aune have been arraigned, Judge Overfield will need to schedule a trial within the next 180 days. The couple remains incarcerated at the Park County Detention Center, with bail set at $1 million cash for each defendant. Simpson indicated that Judge Overfield may hold a hearing to consider lowering their bonds.

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Wyoming to Receive $500K In Magazine Scam Lawsuit

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will receive a settlement of $500,000 in a lawsuit alleging two companies targeted customers nationwide by selling overpriced magazine subscriptions using deceptive mailers designed to look like renewal notices for customers’ legitimate existing subscriptions.

Wyoming joined Colorado in this lawsuit against Atlantic Publishers and Publishers Partnership Services and will also receive $500,000 in the settlement.

Both states’ attorney general offices, as well as the Better Business Bureau, received hundreds of complaints, mainly from people over 60, about the mailers.

One customer, a 94-year-old woman, reported to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that she sent more than $60 to Atlantic Publishers when she received what she thought was a renewal notice for her “Time” magazine subscription, but when she received the real renewal notice the next month, she called the magazine and was told they had not received her payment. 

Colorado filed a lawsuit in November 2019, and Wyoming filed its lawsuit in January of this year. 

The lawsuits stated that from 2016 through 2019, Atlantic Publishers Group and Publishers Partnership Services sent millions of these deceptive mailers to consumers across the country.  

“Overcharging and misleading older consumers into thinking that the mailers were renewal notices  is unconscionable,” said Colorado AG Phil Weiser. “We are pleased that we were able to work with Wyoming to stop this practice that caused financial stress for many consumers and hurt the operations of legitimate  magazine publishers.” 

Because Atlantic Publishers operated out of Colorado, and Publishers Partnership Services operated out of Wyoming, people from across the U.S. filed complaints with the attorneys general offices in both states.

“This settlement highlights the value of interstate coordination,” said Wyoming AG Bridget Hill. “Working together as  equal partners, Colorado and Wyoming have halted and held accountable those whom we allege used our states as home base for misleading consumers nationwide.”  

Under the terms of the joint settlement, the alleged organizers of this scam, Dennis Simpson and John Ackermann, and their companies will pay $500,000 to each of the attorneys general offices to support consumer protection efforts in Colorado and Wyoming.  

They are also banned from operating magazine subscription businesses in both states and from sending the deceptive mailers to Colorado and Wyoming consumers. 

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Vandals Destroy Phone Lines In Uinta County, Causing 911 Outage

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Vandals destroyed fiber-optic lines and materials in rural Uinta County this weekend, cutting off 911 telephone service for some county residents.

On Friday, Century Link experienced an outage that disrupted phone and internet services to many customers in the Bridger Valley area, with some outages lasting until Sunday.

During Century Link’s investigation into the outage, workers discovered “mass” intentional damage to fiber-optic lines and materials in rural Bridger Valley. It appeared that the damage was caused by multiple vehicles.

As of Monday, the damages were estimated to be in excess of tens of thousands of dollars, with hundreds of customers affected.

This incident is being investigated by the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office.

If anyone has information about the individuals that may be involved, please contact the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office 307-783-1000, or the information can be reported anonymously to Crime Stoppers by text: 307-708-2274. Information leading to an arrest could be eligible for a reward. 

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Wyoming Man Charged For Intentionally Starting Two Wildfires In Big Horn County

in News/wildfire/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming man has been charged with intentionally starting two wildfires in Big Horn County almost three years ago.

Brandon Kenneth Nyberg is charged with unlawfully starting a fire and burning timber, trees and other fuels on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. If convicted, he could spend up to one year in jail, serve one year of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $1,000.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Casper, in July 2018, BLM Supervisory Ranger Brad Jones was working near the Terek Fire in Big Horn County when he was alerted to another fire in Manderson. While attempting to gain access to the Manderson fire, another fire on the same highway was reported.

Both fires were believed to be human-caused.

When Jones arrived in Manderson, he saw Nyberg and Sierra Brown with a water hose standing near a barn and house.

When the ranger interviewed him, Nyberg said he hadn’t seen much and he had been watching the fire in the distance when he noticed it burning in the field near his grandparents’ house. He said he didn’t see anyone in the area who could have started the fire, so he believed it was a spot fire caused by embers from the Terek Fire.

Nyberg denied starting either of the two smaller fires.

Brown said she was sleeping when Nyberg woke her and told her to turn on the water. She didn’t see anyone in the field who could have started the fires.

The next day, BLM Ranger Robert Lind was on the scene of the first smaller fire when he was approached by Nyberg on a bicycle. Lind asked Nyberg if he had any photos of the prior day’s fires, which Nyberg did, and he agreed to transfer photos to the ranger.

He repeated a similar story to Lind, that he and Brown returned home from a hike, she took a nap and he woke her when he noticed the fire in the area.

One week later, it was determined that the first fire was started on and burned 6 acres of BLM land, while the second fire was started on private property and spread to BLM land.

In May 2019, Nyberg was interviewed by police at his grandparents’ residence in Manderson. When confronted with evidence, he initially claimed he might have accidentally started the fires with a lit cigarette, but when pushed, he admitted to starting both fires with a lighter.

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Fremont County Man Sentenced For Stabbing Uncle In The Leg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Fremont County man was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison this week for stabbing his uncle in the leg last fall.

Shane Kyle Armajo, 34 of Kinnear, was sentenced to 42 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for assaulting his uncle with a knife.

In October 2020, Armajo and his uncle had been drinking heavily and were driving home from visiting friends when an argument over money ensued. The uncle pulled to the side of the road and the two exited his truck.

They continued arguing until Armajo stabbed his uncle in the leg with a knife. Shortly after, he left the scene in his uncle’s truck.

A passerby spotted the unresponsive victim lying by the side of the road on the Wind River Indian Reservation and called 911. The uncle was life-flighted to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper due to significant blood loss, but ultimately survived the assault.

“Even though both men had been drinking heavily and should not have been operating a motor vehicle, the fact that Armajo left his uncle for dead is extremely concerning. Because of his reckless behavior, he nearly killed a man and could have injured others while driving drunk,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “Thanks to the passerby, the FBI and Wind River Police Department, the victim survived, and his attacker was held accountable.”

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Cheyenne Man Convicted For Trafficking Heroin Alongside Undocumented Immigrant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man and his Honduran partner were sentenced to prison this week in connection with their convictions on heroin distribution charges.

Keith Richard Garcia, 35, was convicted and sentenced to almost six years in prison (70 months) for the heroin charges and to another five years for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

His accomplice, Roger Enrique Sandres Orellana, 32 of Honduras, was sentenced to three years in prison and was also convicted of illegally enterting the United States, for which he received a sentence of time served of approximately nine months.

“This case combines two of the top priorities of the Department of Justice: illegal drug trafficking and criminal immigration enforcement. We work with our local and federal law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate and prosecute all suppliers that distribute illegal drugs in Wyoming,” said Acting United State Attorney Bob Murray. “At the same time, we work to identify, prosecute, and remove persons who violate our sovereign immigration laws. These offenders posed a significant danger to public safety in Laramie County, Wyoming with their distribution of heroin and I am pleased to see justice was served.”

According to a news release from Murray’s office, Drug Enforcement Administration officials suspected Garcia was distributing heroin that he had obtained from a Honduran source in Denver. Subsequent investigation led law enforcement officers to identify Sandres Orellana as the heroin distributor and drug runner.

Sandres Orellana initially gave officers a fake ID but when questioned later, admitted to lying about his identity, to being in the country illegally and to being a drug runner for an unknown male he met online.

Law enforcement recovered approximately 59 grams of heroin, items related to the distribution of controlled substances and a firearm.

“This investigation is a great example of law enforcement efforts in Wyoming to protect our communities from drug trafficking organizations which are polluting our neighborhoods with dangerous narcotics,” said DEA Denver Field Division Special Agent in Charge Deanne Reuter. “The fact that this organization was also using firearms in furtherance of their crimes is a reminder to all of us just how dangerous these groups are. I am very proud of another great example of the hard work and dedication of our agents and law enforcement partners in Wyoming.”

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Man Shot, Killed While Fleeing With Casper Police Officer In Car

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper police officer on Thursday shot and killed a man who tried to drive away from a traffic stop with the police officer in the vehicle, according to the Casper Police Department.

Around 4 a.m. Thursday, Casper officers stopped a vehicle and approached it to speak with its two occupants, the department said.

At one point, the driver unexpectedly exited the vehicle and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat in an attempt to flee the scene. One of the officers tried to stop the vehicle by getting into it, however, the person by then driving the car accelerated from the scene at a high speed.

While inside the car, the officer ordered the new driver to stop. Eventually, the driver drove the vehicle onto the oncoming traffic lane of Interstate 25.

The officer eventually fired his weapon at the person driving the vehicle and safely stopped the car along the side of the interstate.

The suspect was pronounced deceased at the Wyoming Medical Center Thursday morning. The officer in the vehicle did not sustain any serious injuries.

The second officer, who stayed behind with the car’s original driver, was uninjured and did not fire his weapon.

In accordance with department policy, the investigation has been turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations. Both officers have been placed on administrative leave for the time being.

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South Dakota Woman Convicted of Medicaid Fraud, Identity Theft In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A South Dakota woman was convicted this week on multiple counts of health care fraud and identify theft in Wyoming.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Cheyenne annnounced Holli Telford Lundahl, 64, was convicted on three charges of health care fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft after a one-week trial in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne. She is accused of using other people’s identities to bill Wyoming Medicaid for work that was never done.

She is scheduled to be sentenced in July and will serve at least four years, two for each identify theft count. Those sentences will be consecutive to any prison term imposed for the health care fraud, but may be imposed concurrent to one another.

A fine of up to $250,000 could be imposed for each count.

In March 2020, Lundahl was indicted on the charges, which were connected to three overlapping schemes to defraud Wyoming Medicaid by submitting false claims for long-term care provided to Lundahl’s sister.

The evidence at trial showed that Wyoming Medicaid operates a long-term care program designed to keep beneficiaries out of nursing homes and other institutional settings. This program provides limited payments for certain direct support services provided to beneficiaries by properly qualified and enrolled workers.

Lundahl, using her niece’s name, Social Security number and other identifying information, enrolled her niece in this program as a caregiver for Lundahl’s sister.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work she said was done by the niece’s when in fact the niece had not provided any services. Lundahl’s niece did not know her identity was being used and had never been to Wyoming before testifying at trial.

The false information provided by Lundahl caused Wyoming Medicaid money to be paid in the niece’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Evidence at trial also proved that Lundahl advertised for a direct support worker in Lusk. When a young woman responded to the ad, Lundahl convinced the woman to share her social security number and other identification information with Lundahl in order to be hired.

The woman worked one day, was paid cash for her time and was not asked to return.

Lundahl then used the young woman’s information to submit false claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work that the woman did not perform.

As a result, Wyoming Medicaid money was paid in the young woman’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Finally, evidence at trial proved that Lundahl enrolled herself as a direct support worker when she had a power of attorney for her sister and therefore could not be enrolled under Medicaid’s long-term care rules.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work when she was not eligible to be paid for this work and she received Wyoming Medicaid money was paid to her when she was not eligible to receive such payments.

“I applaud my litigation team, the court and the Wyoming Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for stopping this blatant abuse of the system,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Identifying and preventing Medicaid fraud continues to be one of our highest priorities and we remain steadfast in ensuring that Medicaid dollars are preserved for those who most need them.”  

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Wyoming Only One Of Six States That Has Seen No Arrests From Capitol Riot

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is one of only six states that has seen none of its residents arrested for participating in the U.S. Capitol riot earlier this year.

More than 440 people have been arrested so far in connection with the Capitol siege that occurred on Jan. 6 at the same time Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election that confirmed Joe Biden as the winner over former President Donald Trump.

Five people died as a result of the attack.

The people who have been arrested have come from all over the nation, except for six states: Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont and Mississippi, according to Yahoo News.

The largest number of arrests have come from Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, respectively.

While some people from Wyoming did attend a rally held by Trump not long before the attack occurred at the Capitol, no one from the state has yet been identified as taking part in the riot.

Men outnumber women among those arrested by 7 to 1, with an average age of 39. A total of 44 are military veterans.

More than 60 of those arrested so far face some of the most serious charges: assaulting officers with the U.S. Capitol Police and Washington’s Metropolitan Police departments.

Officials said 140 officers were injured during the riot.

A majority of the arrests have resulted from posts on social media accounts.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to make arrests in the case, though.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for the role he allegedly played in inciting the riot during the rally he held just hours beforehand.

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